Pop precision, a throne and water pistols
Friday night at Primavera Sound marks the eve of Pride Month and – in a piece of inspired scheduling – the two main stages has been given over to a stupendous run of LGBTQI+ icons. Up straight after Carly Rae Jepsen, (joyous pop hits) and just prior to sets from Miley Cyrus (rock anthems) and Robyn, Janelle Monáe brings some stage school slickness to proceedings with a set so meticulously polished it makes everyone else seem a bit slack.
Flanked by four dancers, and backed by a predominantly female, five-piece band, Monáe appears to the 2001: Space Odyssey theme, astride the stage’s central plinth, sporting a boxy cap and huge, wrap around perspex shades, like some futuristic take on Rhythm Nation-era Janet Jackson. ‘Crazy Classic Life’ segues straight into ‘Screwed’, complete with Supersoaker-toting dancers, which in turn runs straight into ‘Django Jane’, Monáe rapping from a throne at the top of the podium.
There are dancing trombonists, there are seamless onstage costume changes, there’s a nod to her late mentor Prince as the solo from ‘Purple Rain’ is interpolated into the coda of ‘Primetime’. There’s even a participation section during ‘I Got The Juice’ where select members of the audience are brought onstage to perform dance solos. Throughout all the complex choreography and tricky stage management, Monae’s moves remain fluid and her vocals pitch-perfect.
With nothing left to chance and only absolute perfection on offer, it’s telling that the moments that stand out are those where Monáe’s guard momentarily drops. When her cap slips from her head mid-song, she continues barely ruffled, but there’s a perceptible gasp from the audience that a detail even that small could have gone awry.
Later in the set, she speaks passionately about her blue collar background – and how as a queer, black woman, she was raised to believe she could do anything – while lamenting the Trump administration impinging on the opportunities of future generations. A single tear runs down her cheek. It’s a startling moment that offers a rare glimpse behind the manifold artistic alter-egos to the real Monáe, something you can’t help but wish we saw a tiny bit more of.
Follow all of Loud And Quiet’s 2019 Primavera Sound coverage.
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